Exodus 3:5
And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
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(5) Put off thy shoes.—Rather, thy sandals. It is doubtful whether shoes were known at this early date. They would certainly not have been worn in Midian. Egyptians before the time of Moses, and Orientals generally, in ancient (as in modern) times, removed their sandals (or their shoes) from their feet on entering any place to which respect was due, as a temple, a palace, and even the private house of a great man. It is worthy of notice that God Himself orders this mark of respect to be shown to the place which His Presence has hallowed. On the reverence due to holy places, see the Note on Genesis 28:16-17.

Exodus 3:5. Draw not nigh hither — Keep thy distance. Thus God checks his curiosity and forwardness, and disposes his mind to the greater reverence and humility. Put off thy shoes from thy feet — This is required as a token of his reverence for the Divine Majesty, then and there eminently present; of his humiliation for his sins, which rendered him unworthy to appear before God; of his putting away all sin in his walk or conversation; and of his submission and readiness to obey God’s will; for which reason slaves were wont to approach their masters barefooted. We find the same direction given to Joshua, for the same reason, Joshua 5:15. And it seems not improbable that putting off the shoes, as a sign of humiliation and veneration, was a ceremony observed by the patriarchs in their religious worship. Buxtorf says, that to this day the Jews go to their synagogues barefoot on the day of atonement, (Jud. Synag., c. 30, p. 57,) and many learned men suppose that the priests officiated barefoot in the tabernacle and temple. The custom of treading barefoot in holy places seems to have been general in the East: the Egyptians used it: and Pythagoras, who recommends to his disciples to worship, putting off their shoes, (ανυποδητος προσκυνει,) is thought to have learned this rite from them. The Mohammedans observe this ceremony at the present time, as do also the Christians of Abyssinia. The truth seems to be, as Henry observes, that putting off the shoes was then what putting off the hat is now, a token of respect and submission. The ground is holy — Not absolutely, but in relation to him who sanctified it by this peculiar manifestation of his presence. We ought to approach to God with a solemn pause and preparation; and to express our inward reverence by a grave and reverent behaviour in the worship of God, carefully avoiding every thing that looks light or rude.

3:1-6 The years of the life of Moses are divided into three forties; the first forty he spent as a prince in Pharaoh's court, the second as a shepherd in Midian, the third as a king in Jeshurun. How changeable is the life of man! The first appearance of God to Moses, found him tending sheep. This seems a poor employment for a man of his parts and education, yet he rests satisfied with it; and thus learns meekness and contentment, for which he is more noted in sacred writ, than for all his learning. Satan loves to find us idle; God is pleased when he finds us employed. Being alone, is a good friend to our communion with God. To his great surprise, Moses saw a bush burning without fire to kindle it. The bush burned, and yet did not burn away; an emblem of the church in bondage in Egypt. And it fitly reminds us of the church in every age, under its severest persecutions kept by the presence of God from being destroyed. Fire is an emblem, in Scripture, of the Divine holiness and justice, also of the afflictions and trials with which God proves and purifies his people, and even of that baptism of the Holy Ghost, by which sinful affections are consumed, and the soul changed into the Divine nature and image. God gave Moses a gracious call, to which he returned a ready answer. Those that would have communion with God, must attend upon him in the ordinances wherein he is pleased to manifest himself and his glory, though it be in a bush. Putting off the shoe was a token of respect and submission. We ought to draw nigh to God with a solemn pause and preparation, carefully avoiding every thing that looks light and rude, and unbecoming his service. God does not say, I was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but I am. The patriarchs still live, so many years after their bodies have been in the grave. No length of time can separate the souls of the just from their Maker. By this, God instructed Moses as to another world, and strengthened his belief of a future state. Thus it is interpreted by our Lord Jesus, who, from hence, proves that the dead are raised, Lu 20:37. Moses hid his face, as if both ashamed and afraid to look upon God. The more we see of God, and his grace, and covenant love, the more cause we shall see to worship him with reverence and godly fear.Put off thy shoes - The reverence due to holy places thus rests upon God's own command. The custom itself is well known from the observances of the temple, it was almost universally adopted by the ancients, and is retained in the East.

Holy ground - This passage is almost conclusive against the assumption that the place was previously a sanctuary. Moses knew nothing of its holiness after some 40 years spent on the Peninsula. It became holy by the presence of God.

5. put off thy shoes—The direction was in conformity with a usage which was well known to Moses, for the Egyptian priests observed it in their temples, and it is observed in all Eastern countries where the people take off their shoes or sandals, as we do our hats. But the Eastern idea is not precisely the same as the Western. With us, the removal of the hat is an expression of reverence for the place we enter, or rather of Him who is worshipped there. With them the removal of the shoes is a confession of personal defilement and conscious unworthiness to stand in the presence of unspotted holiness. Draw not nigh hither; keep thy distance; whereby he checks his curiosity and forwardness, and works him to the greater reverence and humility. Compare Exodus 19:12,21 Jos 5:15.

Put off thy shoes: this he requires as an act and token,

1. Of his reverence to the Divine Majesty, then and there eminently present.

2. Of his humiliation for his sins, whereby he was unfit and unworthy to appear before God; for this was a posture of humiliation, 2 Samuel 15:30 Isaiah 20:2,4 Eze 24:17,23.

3. Of purification from the filth of his feet, or ways, or conversation, that he might be more fit to approach to God. See John 13:10 Hebrews 10:22.

4. Of this submission and readiness to obey God’s will, for which reason slaves used to be bare-footed.

Holy ground; with a relative holiness at this time, because of my special presence in it.

And he said, draw not nigh hither,.... Keep a proper distance:

put off thy shoes from off thy feet; dust and dirt cleaving to shoes, and these being ordered to be put off from the feet, the instrument of walking, show that those that draw nigh to God, and are worshippers of him, ought to be of pure and holy lives and conversations:

for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground; not that there was any inherent holiness in this spot of ground more than in any other, which ground is not capable of; but a relative holiness on account of the presence of God here at this time, and was not permanent, only while a pure and holy God was there: hence, in after times, the temple being the place of the divine residence, the priests there performed their services barefooted, nor might a common person enter into the temple with his shoes on (k); and to this day the Jews go to their synagogues barefooted on the day of atonement (l), to which Juvenal (m) seems to have respect; and from hence came the Nudipedalia among the Heathens, and that known symbol of Pythagoras (n), "sacrifice and worship with naked feet": in this manner the priests of Diana sacrificed to her among the Cretians and other people (o); and so the priests of Hercules did the same (p); the Brahmans among the Indians never go into their temples without plucking off their shoes (q); so the Ethiopian Christians, imitating Jews and Gentiles, never go into their places of public worship but with naked feet (r), and the same superstition the Turks and Mahometans observe (s).

(k) Misn. Beracot, c. 9. sect. 5. (l) Buxtorf. Jud Synagog. c. 30. p. 571. (m) "Observant ub. festa mero pede Sabbata reges." Satyr. 6. (n) Jamblichus de Vita Pythagor. Symbol. 3.((o) Solin. Polyhistor. c. 16. Strabo, l. 12. p. 370. (p) Silius de Bello Punic, l. 3.((q) Rogerius de Relig. Brachman. l. 2. c. 10. apud Braunium de vest. sacerdot. l. 1. c. 3. p. 66. (r) Damianus a Goes apud Rivet. in loc. (s) Pitts's Account of the Relig. and Manners of the Mahometans, c. 6. p. 38. 81. Georgieviz. de Turc. Moribus, c. 1. p. 11. Sionita de Urb. Oriental. & Relig. c. 7. p. 18. c. 10. p. 34.

And he said, Draw not nigh hither: {e} put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is {f} holy ground.

(e) Resign yourself to me; Ru 4:7, Jos 5:15.

(f) Because of my presence.

5. shoes] properly (as always) sandals. Cf. Joshua 5:15 (J). The removal of the sandals is still the usual mark of reverence, upon entering a mosque, or other holy place, in the East.

Verse 5. - Draw not nigh. The awful greatness of the Creator is such that his creatures, until invited to draw near, are bound to stand aloof. Moses, not yet aware that God himself spoke to him, was approaching the bush too close, to examine and see what the "great thing" was. (See ver. 3.) On the general unfitness of man to approach near to holy things, see the comment on Exodus 19:12. Put off thy shoes. Rather, "thy sandals." Shoes were not worn commonly, even by the Egyptians, until a late period, and would certainly not be known in the land of Midian at this time. The practice of putting them off before entering a temple, a palace, or even the private apartments of a house, was, and is, universal in the East - the rationale of it being that the shoes or sandals have dust or dirt attaching to them. The command given to Moses at this time was repeated to Joshua (Joshua 5:15). Holy ground. Literally, "ground of holiness " - ground rendered holy by the presence of God upon it - not "an old sanctuary," as some have thought, for then Moses would not have needed the information. Exodus - The God of thy father. "Father" here is used collectively, meaning forefathers generally, a usage well known to Hebraists. (Compare Exodus 15:2, antioch, 18:4.) The God of Abraham, etc., i.e. the God who revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and entered into covenant with them (Genesis 15:1-21; Genesis 26:2-5; Genesis 35:1-12). The conclusion which our Blessed Lord drew from this verse (Matthew 22:32) is not directly involved in it, but depends on his minor premiss, "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." Moses hid his face. A natural instinctive action. So Elijah, on the same site (1 Kings 19:13) and the holy angels before God's throne in heaven (Isaiah 6:2). In the religious system of Rome, the augurs when discharging their office, and all persons when offering a sacrifice, veiled their heads. (See Liv. 1:18; Virg. Aen. 3:405; Juv. 6:390.) Exodus 3:5Here, at Horeb, God appeared to Moses as the Angel of the Lord "in a flame of fire out of the midst of the thorn-bush" (סנה, βάτος, rubus), which burned in the fire and was not consumed. אכּל, in combination with איננּוּ, must be a participle for מאכּל. When Moses turned aside from the road or spot where he was standing, "to look at this great sight" (מראה), i.e., the miraculous vision of the bush that was burning and yet not burned up, Jehovah called to him out of the midst of the thorn-bush, "Moses, Moses (the reduplication as in Genesis 22:11), draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground" (אדמה). The symbolical meaning of this miraculous vision, - that is to say, the fact that it was a figurative representation of the nature and contents of the ensuing message from God, - has long been admitted. The thorn-bush in contrast with the more noble and lofty trees (Judges 9:15) represented the people of Israel in their humiliation, as a people despised by the world. Fire and the flame of fire were not "symbols of the holiness of God;" for, as the Holy One, "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5), He "dwells in the light which no man can approach unto" (1 Timothy 6:16); and that not merely according to the New Testament, but according to the Old Testament view as well, as is evident from Isaiah 10:17, where "the Light of Israel" and "the Holy One of Israel" are synonymous. But "the Light of Israel became fire, and the Holy One a flame, and burned and consumed its thorns and thistles." Nor is "fire, from its very nature, the source of light," according to the scriptural view. On the contrary, light, the condition of all life, is also the source of fire. The sun enlightens, warms, and burns (Job 30:28; Sol. Sol 1:6); the rays of the sun produce warmth, heat, and fire; and light was created before the sun. Fire, therefore, regarded as burning and consuming, is a figurative representation of refining affliction and destroying punishment (1 Corinthians 3:11.), or a symbol of the chastening and punitive justice of the indignation and wrath of God. It is in fire that the Lord comes to judgment (Daniel 7:9-10; Ezekiel 1:13-14, Ezekiel 1:27-28; Revelation 1:14-15). Fire sets forth the fiery indignation which devours the adversaries (Hebrews 10:27). He who "judges and makes war in righteousness' has eyes as a flame of fire (Revelation 19:11-12). Accordingly, the burning thorn-bush represented the people of Israel as they were burning in the fire of affliction, the iron furnace of Egypt (Deuteronomy 4:20). Yet, though the thorn-bush was burning in the fire, it was not consumed; for in the flame was Jehovah, who chastens His people, but does not give them over unto death (Psalm 118:18). The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had come down to deliver His people out of the hand of the Egyptians (Exodus 3:8). Although the affliction of Israel in Egypt proceeded from Pharaoh, yet was it also a fire which the Lord had kindled to purify His people and prepare it for its calling. In the flame of the burning bush the Lord manifested Himself as the "jealous God, who visits the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate Him, and showeth mercy unto thousands of them that love Him and keep His commandments" (Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 5:9-10), who cannot tolerate the worship of another god (Exodus 34:14), and whose anger burns against idolaters, to destroy them (Deuteronomy 6:15). The "jealous God" was a "consuming fire" in the midst of Israel (Deuteronomy 4:24). These passages show that the great sight which Moses saw not only had reference to the circumstances of Israel in Egypt, but was a prelude to the manifestation of God on Sinai for the establishment of the covenant (Exodus 19 and 20), and also a representation of the relation in which Jehovah would stand to Israel through the establishment of the covenant made with the fathers. For this reason it occurred upon the spot where Jehovah intended to set up His covenant with Israel. But, as a jealous God, He also "takes vengeance upon His adversaries" (Nahum 1:2.). Pharaoh, who would not let Israel go, He was about to smite with all His wonders (Exodus 3:20), whilst He redeemed Israel with outstretched arm and great judgments (Exodus 6:6). - The transition from the Angel of Jehovah (Exodus 3:2) to Jehovah (Exodus 3:4) proves the identity of the two; and the interchange of Jehovah and Elohim, in Exodus 3:4, precludes the idea of Jehovah being merely a national God. The command of God to Moses to put off his shoes, may be accounted for from the custom in the East of wearing shoes or sandals merely as a protection from dirt. No Brahmin enters a pagoda, no Moslem a mosque, without first taking off at least his overshoes (Rosenm. Morgenl. i. 261; Robinson, Pal. ii. p. 373); and even in the Grecian temples the priests and priestesses performed the service barefooted (Justin, Apol. i. c. 62; Bhr, Symbol. ii. 96). when entering other holy places also, the Arabs and Samaritans, and even the Yezidis of Mesopotamia, take off their shoes, that the places may not be defiled by the dirt or dust upon them (vid., Robinson, Pal. iii. 100, and Layard's Nineveh and its Remains). The place of the burning bush was holy because of the presence of the holy God, and putting off the shoes was intended to express not merely respect for the place itself, but that reverence which the inward man (Ephesians 3:16) owes to the holy God.
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